"But that's Alex," Matt said, his voice choked with emotion as he relived the conversation for the first time. "He's a go-getter."
Dorner had ditched the pickup down an embankment behind some bushes and had broken into a nearby cabin. His tire tracks seemed to just disappear into the snow. Alex, armed with a rifle, began sidestepping along the road, thinking it was impossible for a truck to just vanish.
Tink. Tink. Tink.
The sound of a silenced high-power rifle was followed by a burning wallop as a bullet entered his left nostril, pierced the roof of his mouth, split his tongue and burst through his jaw. Shots to his chest and forearm knocked the rifle from his hands. His leg was hit.
Bullets skipped along the road as he ducked behind an SUV's rear wheel. He was showered by glass as the back windows were blown out.
Starting to choke on blood and teeth and in terrible pain, he tried to call his wife to say he loved her and was sorry; he didn't think he'd be coming home. He reached in his chest pocket and found his phone shattered by a bullet. He tossed it in disgust.
He thought he was going to die.
"OK, God, I'm ready," he thought as he closed his eyes.
He remembered from the police academy that he needed to muster the will to survive. It was up to him.
Minutes later, Det. Jeremiah MacKay was fatally shot nearby.
"Two deputies down," the radio blared. "Automatic fire inbound ... deputies still down in the kill zone."
Matt Collins was drawn into the chaotic firefight when he arrived. He could see deputies on the ground a couple dozen yards away, but couldn't tell if one was his brother. He had a bad feeling and tried to call Alex. It went straight to voicemail.
Ryan Collins heard the dispatch, and he started calling Alex. He called at least 10 times.
As Ryan sped to the firefight, he got a call from Matt.
"Is it Alex?" Ryan asked.
"I don't know, I don't know, but I don't see him down here," Matt said.
Under a smoke screen as officers fired at the cabin, two SWAT officers dragged MacKay and Alex to safety. King, who'd taken cover nearby to return fire, told Ryan by phone that his brother was shot, but that Alex had given the thumbs-up sign as he was carried away.
Alex, now 27, spent a month in the hospital, returning for roughly 20 surgeries, including multiple bone grafts. He'd regain color, become more mobile, then undergo another surgery and be back in a wheelchair, sallow with dark circles around his eyes.
Several months after the shooting, Alex took his wife and infant son to the evergreen forest where he was shot and where Dorner killed himself as the cabin burned to the ground.
It wasn't an emotional visit. He wasn't ready to relive the experience. He pointed to where he lay on the road, the place where he had tried to call home as he thought he wouldn't make it. The destroyed phone, doctors told him, had saved his life.
He returned to full duty eight months after the shooting. Today, he has an almost indiscernible limp, a slight heaviness to his speech when he pronounces a hard "T'' sound, a dimple-like scar near his nose, and scars on his chest, forearm and leg.
Alex and his brothers still talk daily and have dinner together with their parents every Sunday. They don't discuss the shootout, but each says it's always in the back of their minds.
"I couldn't even imagine if something happened to them," Alex said. "And for them, they've been kind of looking out for me my entire life. And they still do."
Tami Abdollah can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/latams
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